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Interfaith representatives call for national palliative care strategy

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Representatives from the Catholic, evangelical, Jewish and Muslim faith communities called for a well-funded, quality national palliative care strategy.

The interfaith leaders made the pitch June 14 as the euthanasia and assisted suicide bill, designated as Bill C-14, was headed for more debate and possible amendments in the Canadian Senate before a vote.

“The need for quality, widely accessible palliative care should be one of the most pressing concerns of our country,” Bishop Noel Simard of Valleyfield, Que., said on behalf of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Faith communities, along with health care workers, have for centuries stood by the bedsides of the dying to comfort and protect, to heal and console. Today, as faith leaders, we recommit ourselves to this sacred task of providing the spiritual care so essential to palliative care.”

Simard said the use of language such as “medical aid in dying” to refer to the bill or Quebec’s euthanasia law creates confusion because it sounds like palliative care that seeks to alleviate physical suffering while accompanying the patient and attending to psycho-social and spiritual needs. Rather, he explained, palliative care views the ill person as someone who must be cared for with compassion until natural death.

Under the proposed law, a person is seen as a subject, the bishop said. The words euthanasia and assisted suicide in reference to the bill should be used because they seek to eliminate the person in order to eliminate suffering, he said.

“Palliative care alleviates the suffering of those nearing the end of life, yet, lamentably, it is not accessible to everyone,” said Julia Beazley, of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. “As faith communities and as Canadians, we must commit to making high-quality palliative care available to all.”

The statement called for five steps to improve access to quality palliative care.

— Development of a national strategy involving all levels of government, from federal to provincial and municipal.

— Ensuring palliative care and end-of-life care is available in all settings, including the home.

— A commitment to improving quality and consistency.

— More support for caregivers and their families through various means such as tax breaks.

— Ensuring the health care system respects people nearing the end of life and considers their psychological and spiritual needs and those of their families during the dying process.

“Preserving human dignity and providing comfort to the most vulnerable among us are core Canadian values that transcend faith communities,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Toronto. “In light of Canada’s aging population, there is a pressing need to improve access to high-quality palliative care, which can make a world of difference in the well-being of patients — and their families — entering the final stages of life.”

Imam Sikander of the Canadian Council of Imams said it is a human duty to care for the sick and dying. “Fortunately, many Canadians take this responsibility very seriously. We must ensure though that the ill and dying are not left out of our care and compassion. Every life is worth living and saving. Let us come together to enhance and cherish life,” he said.

The Canadian Hospice and Palliative Care Association reports that 15 per cent to 30 per cent of Canadians have access to palliative care, despite the fact 96 per cent of them support it. In addition, families pay about 25 per cent of the costs, placing a heavy financial burden on those caring for the terminally ill.

The association said palliative care would save the health care system between $7,000 and $8,000 per patient at end of life and warned of the coming demographic crunch as the number of senior citizens increases.

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